Football Features

20 familiar faces you might not have realised are playing in the Turkish Super Lig

By Chris Smith

Published: 11:16, 29 September 2021 | Updated: 10:49, 1 October 2021

There’s no league quite like the Turkish Super Lig.

At the top, you’ve got the Istanbul giants of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas mopping up all the fans, wealth and glory. Trabzonspor have had their day in the sun, too, completing the “big four” as they’re known in Turkey.

After that, it’s a series of clubs constantly jostling for position to get as close as possible to the aristocracy. In doing so, they make some truly spectacular moves in the transfer market — not that Turkey’s giants are against bringing in some interest names either, see Mesut Ozil for one example.

Scrolling through the squads in the Turkish Super Lig could keep you occupied for hours but to save you a little time, we’ve picked out 20 familiar faces you might not have realised are playing there right now.

1. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou – Besiktas

Once a highly-rated prospect at Tottenham Hotspur, costing the club £11m, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou arrived at Besiktas in 2019. Since then, it’s fair to say the Frenchman has done okay for himself, winning the league and cup double last season while he’s notched 14 goals and eight assists so far, more than he’s managed for any other club.

2. Luiz Gustavo – Fenerbahce

For a short time a decade ago, Luiz Gustavo was the rock at the heart of the Bayern Munich midfield. After spells at Wolfsburg and Marseille, he’s now performing that same role for Fenerbahce, where he is vice-captain behind current armband-holder, Mesut Ozil.

3. Mario Balotelli – Adana Demirspor

“Today we have completed a transfer that will write its name in the history of our club Adana Demirspor with golden letters,” read an official club announcement upon the signing of Mario Balotelli in the summer. Sure, a lot more people are now aware of Demirspor, though not necessarily in a good way.

Balotelli’s biggest moments at the club so far have been punching a teammate in frustration after being substituted, and mocking Besiktas manager Sergen Yalcin with his goal celebration. Yalcin previously said Balotelli “has no brain”.

“I wish it didn’t happen,” Demirspor president Murat Sancak said after the eventful 3-3 draw. “Both Sergen Yalcin’s comments at first and then what Balotelli did were not right.”

Yalcin himself appeared slightly rattled too.

“It is the first time that I’ve seen a player doing such a thing to a manager,” he said. “I could not understand why he did that, maybe the reason is that he did not join Besiktas last year. That shows his personality.”

Oh, and did we mention Balotelli’s strike partner is former Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest man Britt Assombalonga, who scored a 97th-minute equaliser in that draw with Besiktas?

4. DeAndre Yedlin – Galatasaray

Despite the United States seeing an exciting emergence of talent at right-back in recent years, DeAndre Yedlin has still managed to wrestle his way back into Gregg Berhalter’s plans. Of course, plying his trade for Galatasaray — regulars in the Champions League and Europa League — will do his cause no harm.

5. Marek Hamsik – Trabzonspor

One of the greatest players ever to wear the Napoli shirt, Marek Hamsik returned from his two-year stint in China earlier this year, joining Swedish side IFK Goteborg, but moved to Trabzonspor — the biggest team in Turkey outside of Istanbul’s “big three” — after just six games.

6. Gervinho – Trabszonspor

Through the door shortly after Hamsik was former Arsenal winger, Gervinho. Both 34 years old, the pair have helped Trabzonspor make an unbeaten start to the 2021/22 season, sitting second, just a point behind Fenerbahce.

7. Nacer Chadli – Istanbul Basaksehir

Nacer Chadli still gets plenty of minutes at international level for Belgium thanks to his ability to play at wing-back, on the flanks or through the middle. Nowadays, the former Spurs man is at Istanbul Basaksehir, who won the title a couple of years ago but have fallen away drastically since.

8. Enner Valencia – Fenerbahce

A solid striker during his West Ham days, and during a loan spell at Everton, Enner Valencia returned to Europe in 2020 after three fruitful years in Mexico, joining Fenerbahce. Forty-three games and 18 goals later (and counting), that move can be regarded as a success thus far.

9. Leroy Fer – Alanyaspor

A KNVB Cup winner and recipient of 11 caps for the Netherlands, Leroy Fer hasn’t necessarily had a bad career. But it’s certainly not lived up to the considerable potential we all saw in him as a youngster with Feyenoord. Nowadays, the former Norwich and Swansea man turns out for Alanyaspor, who are battling for a European spot during the early stages of the 2021/22 season.

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10. Max Meyer – Fenerbahce

Max Meyer was once seen as the future of German football and at 26, you could argue he still has potential to be a solid player. But joining and leaving Crystal Palace on a free transfer (and doing the same after just six months at FC Koln) probably isn’t how he envisaged his career playing out. Meyer was signed by Fenerbahce this summer to try and add some style to their title challenge.

11. Ahmed Musa – Fatih Karagumruk

Ahmed Musa is probably more famous for being an absolute demon on the dribble on FIFA rather than for his underwhelming spell at Leicester City. His nomadic career continues in Turkey with Fatih Karagumruk and although he scored on his debut, he’s yet to find the net since.

12. Steven Caulker – Gaziantep

Steven Caulker’s career might well be one hell of a story when he eventually retires. A goal in his only England cap during a 4-2 defeat to Sweden which featured that Zlatan Ibrahimovic strike. A cameo as an emergency striker for Liverpool. A shock move to Scotland with Dundee. All that before rocking up in Turkey with Alanyaspor in 2018, eventually joining Gaziantep in the summer. And he only turns 30 in December.

13. Gokhan Inler – Adana Demirspor

Hamsik’s partner in crime in the Napoli midfield, Gokhan Inler appeared on the edge of greatness for quite a while but his career essentially went on the downturn after a failed spell with Leicester in 2015. Capped 89 times with Switzerland, Inler was also eligible for Turkey at international level and has actually been playing in the country since 2016 for Besiktas, Istanbul Basaksehir and, now, Adana Demirspor, though he’s yet to taste any real success.

14. Nuri Sahin – Antalyaspor

A title winner with Borussia Dortmund with the likes of Real Madrid and Liverpool on his CV, Nuri Sahin has seen a lot during his career. Had injuries not held him back, he could have become a legend.

Although he was born in Germany, Sahin has Turkish parents and was capped for the country 52 times. He’s back there now with Antalyaspor, balancing his commitments there with the Nuri Sahin Academy, which provides opportunities, education and life skills for children.

15. Yannick Bolasie – Caykur Rizespor

For a player who started life in non-league and the Maltese Premier League, Yannick Bolasie has enjoyed an incredible career, turning out for the likes of Crystal Palace, Everton and Aston Villa. He finally left the Toffees this summer to join Caykur Rizespor, who are rock bottom of the Super Lig and appear in serious trouble.

16. Loic Remy – Caykur Rizespor

Sure, he managed to pick up Premier League and EFL Cup winner’s medals, but Loic Remy’s skillset was deserving of far more than the back-up striker role he endured at Chelsea. After all, he’d scored 20 goals in 42 Premier League appearances for Newcastle and QPR combined prior to arriving at Stamford Bridge, while also impressing in France with the likes of Marseille and Nice.

Nowadays he plays alongside Bolasie at Rizespor but after scoring seven goals in 19 games for the club last season, has been unable to get off the mark so far in 2021/22.

17. Lucas Biglia – Fatih Karagumruk

Given his talent, Lucas Biglia probably spent a little bit too long with Anderlecht, making 302 appearances for the club between 2006 and 2013. The midfielder finally got a big move to Lazio in 2013, while he also turned out for AC Milan during his time in Italy. Although he was very much respectable, it was a little too late for him to show his true ability.

Still, the now-Fatih Karagumruk midfielder has played in a World Cup final and two Copa America finals with Argentina during his career, though he lost all three.

18. Stefano Okaka – Istanbul Basaksehir

Stefano Okaka has played in Serie A for the likes of Roma, Parma and Udinese, and in the Premier League with Watford and Fulham. Rounding off an impressive rap sheet, he also has four caps for the Italian national team. And it seems Turkish defences aren’t sure how to handle his unique blend of aggressiveness and physicality, with Okaka already netting four goals in his opening four appearances for Istanbul Basaksehir after joining over the summer.

19. Mame Biram Diouf – Hatayspor

After 157 appearances across all competitions, Mame Biram Diouf finally left Stoke City in 2020 to join Hatayspor. His first season in Turkey was a complete success, scoring 19 goals in 38 Super Lig appearances to help the club finish sixth. The Senegal international has continued that form into the new campaign, notching four goals and an assist in seven games as Hatayspor once again battle it out in the upper echelons of the Turkish top-flight.

20. Fabio Borini – Fatih Karagumruk

From AC Milan to Fatih Karagumruk with a spell at Hellas Verona in-between. Not your usual career path but, then again, Fabio Borini has made career out of strange moves, with the likes of Roma, Liverpool, Chelsea, Swansea and Sunderland all on his CV, too.